FIRST PERSON
Kyler Sauer's Perspective From Front Lines of COVID-19 June 10, 2020 By Kyler Sauer

Burbank firefighter Kyler Sauer has been one of the front-line heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kyler Sauer)

I am truly humbled to have been asked to write about my experiences during this COVID-19 pandemic. The only thing I ask is to bear with me as it’s been some time since I’ve written anything like this.

Just some quick background information: I’m 29 years old and I’m from Thousand Oaks, Calif., which is about 45 minutes northwest of downtown Los Angeles. I’m a firefighter paramedic with the Burbank Fire Department in Los Angeles County, and I have been working in EMS (emergency medical services) for about five years. Prior to my employment here in Burbank, I took a shot at professional golf, earning conditional status on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada after graduating from Cal State University at Northridge.

After chasing my dream for a little over a year, I decided it was time to chase my original goal of becoming a firefighter, following in the footsteps of my dad, uncle, and grandpa. I was hired by the city of Burbank in 2016 and since regaining my amateur status in 2017, I’ve been fortunate enough to find some balance between working 48-hour shifts and hitting the links. I’ve been able to play in a few USGA events, and even made a run to the semifinals of the 2018 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club. But enough about me, let’s talk about what has been on everyone’s TV, newspaper and minds for the last three months.

When COVID-19 initially hit the U.S., our fire department didn’t really know what to expect. In the early months, we began hearing stories of hospitals and 911 systems being overwhelmed, not to mention the fact that FDNY hadn’t seen their call volume that high since Sept. 11, 2001. We were expecting and preparing for the worst. Being that we’re in the second-largest city in the country, we believed that it was only a matter of time before the COVID-19 wave would makes its way through our city.

Just as most governments had done, early on our city and fire department shut down all non-essential tasks and encouraged social distancing. We would no longer be allowing visitors to the station: no tours or community education. Apartment and business fire inspections were postponed and station gyms were closed. Meetings and training sessions were canceled or done via Zoom. Our temperatures were taken twice a day. We kept our uniforms and boots out of the station and near the apparatus. We decontaminated the station, work areas, engines, trucks and ambulances multiple times each shift for ourselves, our fellow crew members and our patients. Our workdays became focused on running calls and staying healthy. All of this has continued into the first week of June.

As far as our call volume, it was eerily slow when the initial stay-at-home order was issued by our governor. Our days of running 10-20 emergency calls turned into four or five max. Not only did we initially not get the surge of COVID-19 patients that we had prepared for, but the number of patients having heart attacks, strokes, diabetic emergencies, etc., seemed to just disappear. This made all of us wonder: Did the stay-at-home order actually work? 

Burbank (Calif.) firefighter paramedic Kyler Sauer reached the semifinals of the 2018 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Charlotte (N.C.) C.C. (USGA/Chris Keane)

My friends and colleagues from other local fire departments were all experiencing the same. My girlfriend, who is an emergency-room nurse at one of the busiest hospitals in Los Angeles, had told me there were days when they would send nurses home because there just weren’t enough patients. We knew we were a certain number of days behind the East Coast, but we felt as though COVID-19 wasn’t going to be as bad as we thought.

As the weeks progressed, however, a new reality began to sink in. Our 48-hour shifts became busier, and the virus started to rear its ugly head more and more, mostly affecting elderly rehab facilities, convalescent homes, and those with certain comorbidities. More frequently, the tones would go off at our station and we found ourselves donning our fully “gowned-up PPE (personal protection equipment),” responding to patients with high fevers, weakness and in respiratory distress.

There have been many difficult things for myself and my colleagues during this pandemic, both at work and at home. First, I can’t express enough how thankful I am to have my job and to be considered “essential.” I know that a large portion of the population are struggling through financial problems, furloughs, childcare, school closings, etc., and I’m hopeful that they can all rebound from this soon. Our COVID-19 patients are sick. Most of the time they have other underlying health conditions, so they have become even more sick than they typically would. Without a vaccine or a definitive treatment, there’s not a whole lot that hospitals can do.

On top of that, because of the pandemic, the hospitals aren’t allowing family members, loved ones or friends to visit. What’s been hard for me is transporting someone to the hospital, knowing that this could be their last ride in an ambulance. It could be the last time they’re outside. It could be the last time they see their family, their loved ones, their friends. My job is surrounded by sick people. It’s what I signed up for and it’s what I’m used to, but that doesn’t make it easy.

Every day I do my best to help someone in whatever way possible. What’s different now is I know there’s nothing on my ambulance that can fix them, and there’s more of a possibility they will not recover from the effects of the virus. Fortunately, at the end of my shift, I’m surrounded by a strong support group with my crew, my loved ones at home and my buddies on the golf course that I can look to for comfort.

As far as my golf game, I’m excited to get back on the course and compete again. Though it’s been a while since I’ve played and as frustrating as the game can be at times, it has always served as a form of therapy for me. Like most of my fellow passionate golfers, I was at first shocked to hear that golf courses would be closing. I figured that of all the sports, golf was the perfect game where you can get out of the house and have some fun, all while being able to social distance from one another. I understand there were a lot of unknowns with the virus when it first presented itself, but all I can say now is that it’s great to hear that courses have opened in all 50 states.

So far, 2020 has been a crazy year, and it’s even crazier to believe that we’re nearly halfway through it. I hope everyone is staying safe, healthy and positive. I know this dire situation will soon be over and then we can turn our minds to more positive things, like finding the fairway and getting the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes possible.